Albert Pujols will always be remembered for the first 11 years of his career, during which he built the foundation of a first-ballot Hall of Fame career with the St. Louis Cardinals, regardless of whatever he does with the Los Angeles Angels.
In St. Louis, Pujols hit 445 homers and posted a .328/.420/.617 line. He had more walks than strikeouts in every season with the Cardinals except his rookie year, something Alex Rodriguez has never done and Miguel Cabrera has achieved only once, two other guys who stand among the best right-handed hitters ever. He won three National League MVP awards and finished in the top five six other times (including four runner-ups).
Albert Pujols still is St. Louis baseball in many ways, and so with the Cardinals visiting the Angels this week, reporters have gotten Pujols to reflect on playing for the Cards, and he explained why he still roots for St. Louis even though he left to sign a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Angels after the 2011 season. Part of the reason is his love for former teammate Yadier Molina.
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"I make sure he knows I'm pulling for him and pulling for the Cardinals," Pujols told the St. Louis Dispatch. "Just because I'm playing out here, out West, all those guys I played with, you have great memories with. You wish them the best, except when we [play each other]."
Pujols still dreams of getting back to St. Louis to play a game in front of Cardinals fans again. He was hoping that would be this year since the Cardinals already visited Anaheim in 2013, but now he's looking ahead to 2019 (via the Dispatch):
"To tell you the truth, it is what it is, but I would love to get back to St. Louis, to play a game there ... I always tell people I came there a little boy and I left there a grown man. It would be pretty emotional, too. I'm a pretty emotional guy. It would be fun. It would be important when that moment comes.
"If I play toward the end of my contract, I'm supposed to go in 2019. It is what it is. That day will come, I hope. If it doesn't come, it wasn't meant to be."
Whenever Pujols' return to St. Louis happens, it will be an incredible scene and reception. Pujols helped bring Cardinals fans two World Series titles and, truthfully, left the organization better off by signing his massive deal somewhere else.
Cardinals manager, and former Pujols teammate, Mike Matheny would like to see that moment happen.
"There's probably a closure that would bring for him. I think there's been enough time that's passed and there really is an understanding of what he gave to the organization. Whatever frustration there was has to be gone, and it could really be a moment of appreciation. But, it's going to happen, right? He's one of the greats. He'll be back. Whether it's in the batter's box or it's later to throw out a first pitch or it's when his number goes up, he's going to get that moment."